Week two of my second session of classes. So far so good. I’ve enjoyed the dialogues back and forth and have found a classmate who is quite a decent blogger! Check out A Heart That Burns & tell Chad that Sharon sent you. Maybe he’ll add positive comments to my class posts. Just kidding!
One of our discussion questions this week is this: Speculate as to how well your own local church is in harmony with the original mission of the Church of the Nazarene to proclaim entire sanctification.
Of course, this question uses specialized vocabulary – “entire sanctification” – that means something different in the Church of the Nazarene than it might mean to the average Christian from a different denominational background. For that matter, it can mean different things even among Nazarenes these days. In my answer I was reflecting on the way the term was used in my early adulthood, and this was part of my reply:
I teach adults in our church, and, honestly, it hasn’t been a strong emphasis for me, either. I do try to teach holiness, but I think I’ve reacted – overreacted, probably – to the emphasis on crisis I heard in the church years ago. The growth in holiness of most Nazarenes I’ve known has included a lot more process than we heard preached, and I came to see some of what we taught as unrealistic and ultimately discouraging.
It was an honest, but I thought, moderate answer. I drew one reply from a classmate, who seems to feel I have a bit of a personal problem.
That is too bad. To preach entire sanctification is one of power and is full of the love God has for His people. I think of being entirely sanctified as a life long journey, learning and growing in the grace and knowledge of our Lord. It is an exciting journey. I can not imagine a life without being totally 100% given over to God. I know as you seek God, you will find this true for yourself. Be encouraged!!
I wrote a long response, and then decided not to post it because I sounded a bit techy about having my commitment to God called into question. And maybe that was my initial reaction; I’m not exactly known for my thick skin. Nevertheless, I think my classmate missed my point. I’m posting my response here, instead of in the class discussion forum. On the bumpy road to ordination, if there is anything that could potentially derail me, it is this – my stance on our church’s traditional “Holiness” teaching.
Let me clarify. I believe I am “totally given over to God”, as least as much as I am capable of knowing myself. My de-emphasis on “entire sanctification” as it was taught early in my adulthood is not a matter of my own level of consecration, but of a doctrine which I saw producing confusion and despair in the younger generations of Nazarenes. Instead of sanctification being perfection of heart motive or perfection in love, it was preached as complete sinlessness – and yet, we didn’t see it in the Christians around us. To have a pastor stand and preach sinlessness in the pulpit, while manifesting sin (ill temper, racism, gossip) out of the pulpit was confusing.
It was preached as something that was available from the moment you were saved, if you only wanted it badly enough and were willing to stay at the altar until you’d “prayed through”. And so we (I’m using “we” to represent the experience of many, many younger Nazarenes) knelt and prayed and begged and cried and surrendered everything we knew to surrender, time after time…and the process of growing in grace still seemed slow. Although some of us – myself included – could certainly see change, could point to places where God was transforming our characters – it didn’t match the change we were told to expect. And so guilt was added. We must not have wanted it enough, had faith enough, surrendered enough. It was a bit like some of the charismatic teachings on healing, actually. If you didn’t get the desired results from God, it MUST be your fault.
The crisis experience resulting in instantaneous, complete transformation was preached as an absolute necessity for salvation. “Holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord,” somehow became, “You’ll never enter heaven unless you have THIS experience.” So all of our friends in other denominations who trusted in Christ as Savior, who loved and served God – they were still iffy prospects for salvation because they weren’t in “Holiness” churches. Talk about a turn off!
I don’t think that was true, scriptural holiness being preached. I don’t even think it was Wesleyan theology. It was some sort of weird folk theology that had taken hold in many Nazarene churches, and I’m happy to see it go.
If I’m right about that last bit – that the doctrine I was taught as a young woman was a distortion of Wesleyan holiness theology – I need to understand and pass on the real McCoy. I feel like I’ve made progress with that in recent years, both by studying the scriptures and by reading widely. But what if the theology I’m rejecting really is the teaching of my church?
I realize this discussion is very “inside baseball”. But for me, it may become incredibly important. I will never be ordained in our denomination unless I can affirm our doctrine, including (or perhaps, especially) in the area of our distinctive emphasis: entire sanctification.